Borussia Dortmund kicked off the Bundesliga season at the Westfalenstadion today in absolute sultry conditions, out-laboring the Nullfünfers from Andre Schürrle’s and Thomas Tuchel’s old stomping grounds, Mainz. The 2-1 win coming from two Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goals was not comfortable and did not answer any of the questions the pre-season had not already answered. Far too much of the first 60 minutes, Dortmund had trouble advancing the ball through the center of a Ilkay Gündoğan-shaped hole in their midfield, but had plenty of ease on the wings, where the Usain Bolt of the Bundesliga, new boy Ousmane Dembélé out-sprinted poor Mainz’s Daniel Brosinski to countless balls. Dortmund seemed to seal the deal with a penalty on Mainz against Schürrle in the 89th minute but received a scare in the next minute when Dortmund’s defense lapsed and allowed a headed goal by substitute Yoshinori Muto off a quick, counter attack. Now, the ratings:
Roman Bürki - 7: Our Swiss keeper was unlucky to not start the season off on a clean sheet. He had earned it during the match. Though Mainz predictably lost the possession battle in a decisive manner, the Carnival side had their fair share of very well-placed shots that tested Bürki. Kept his concentration and focus throughout and made two tremendous stretch saves.
Felix Passlack - 5: Was not asked of very much defensively. Stayed withdrawn from the attack due to the pacey Dembélé on his side. Kept possession well and always presented options to his side’s Center Back partner Sokratis. Strangely substituted late in the match for Piszczek.
Sokratis - 6: Papa played his standard solid match. Nothing too spectacular. Mainz did not test him very often, and their lack of any kind of press ensured he had time on the ball to make the safe pass in build-up play. Was caught two yards too close with Muto sneaking in behind him for the goal. Hard to judge him on the play though.
Marc Bartra - 7: No defensive deficiencies though his offensive prowess took a day off from the outstanding performances he had against Bayern in the Supercup and Trier in the Pokal. Took a nasty boot to the face during a corner kick in the first half.
Marcel Schmelzer - 5: Had the last two minutes of the match not occurred Schmelle would have been at least a point higher. Thankfully his dreadful turnover that lead to the goal happened in garbage time. Had some very good moments in the attack as his overlaps caused the Mainz defense fits. Key interventions off of good crosses saved two likely assists to Aubameyang.
Sebastian Rode - 7: Rode has definitely filled a vital role of Energizer Bunny in the spine of the team. While everyone else clearly suffered in the heat, Rode flew through the field with his typical controlled abandon. Had no love on springing anyone through the middle but could have found himself on the scoresheet had he wore his finishing boots after getting on the end of a brilliant pull-back in the second half. Received a raucous ovation during his late substitution for Guerreiro.
Gonzalo Castro - 4: A disappointing outing from Castro who was stymied throughout the match. His timing seemed out of sync with Kagawa and touch was lacking. Made a few poor decisions in the final third. Was replaced by Julian Weigl in the first substitution for Tuchel.
Shinji Kagawa - 4: Kagawa was genuinely absent. His major contributions to the match were the times he was forced to play hold up and fouled on the ball.
Ousmane Dembélé - 6: Yes, it’s cliché, but he is certainly an uncut, let alone, unpolished gem on this squad. Rather than the inverted winger many of us anticipated him to be, working with Kagawa and Castro to find space in the half-spaces, he played as a traditional, albeit very fast one. Perhaps only one of his multitude of crosses from his bolts down the flank and corners (why he was on corner duty to begin with is a mystery known only to Tuchel) found the mark. An immature Raheem Sterling meets Douglas Costa performance.
André Schürrle - 8: Man of the match. A constant danger and one of the only attackers who showed the talent, composure, and guts to drive at the defense. This combined with his shooting ability from distance demanded respect from his opponents. His brilliantly placed cross into space found Aubameyang perfectly for the opening goal, and his decision to go to ground on the pull-back in the box in the 89th minute was rewarded with a penalty.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - 7: Did exactly what a striker needed to do. Had two good chances and buried one of them. Coolly hit the match-winning penalty late on.
Julian Weigl - 7: Had instant impact in replacing Gonzalo Castro. Had one brilliant lob in to spring Aubameyang who was denied at the last second. Tuchel has clearly instructed him to play a more adventurous role this season as his passing became far more vertical and incisive than last year. Watching how he will perhaps transform into a young Andrea Pirlo and less dirty Sergio Busquets in a deep midfield attacking role is going to be one of the highlights of the upcoming season.
Lukas Piszczek - NR: Came on strangely for Passlack who had a perfectly fine outing. One can only assume it was to get the Pole some match play as he had a late holiday like other internationals who went late in the European Championship.
Raphaël Guerreiro - NR: Came on far too late for a ranking.